Facebook has made it clear: it's not going to do anything about misleading or outright false political ads that run on the site. Nevermind that the company's employees are outraged. Nevermind that some of the ads are demonstrably false. Facebook is standing firm on free expression--as long as you are paying them to run political ads.

With that in mind, a California man named Adriel Hampton filed to run for Governor. Not because he particularly has a problem with the guy currently running the state, but because he's trying to make a point. 

Hampton had run an ad on Facebook that portrayed Lindsey Graham, the Senator from South Carolina, as a supporter of the Green New Deal introduced by first-term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That ad was removed by Facebook's fact-checkers because, while the social network allows candidates to outright lie, it won't let the average person to run a fake ad.

So, Hampton made it official, hoping Facebook will let him run his ads. Well, actually, Hampton's goal is that Facebook won't run any misleading ads at all, and he's using his "candidacy" as a test cast.

"The genesis of this campaign is social media regulation and to ensure there is not an exemption in fact-checking specifically for politicians like Donald Trump who like to lie online," Hampton told CNN.

You might remember that current Democratic presidential candidate, and former Vice President, Joe Biden, asked Facebook to remove an ad run by the Trump campaign that made claims that had been previously debunked. Facebook's response was that it isn't in the business of fact-checking political ads. Elizabeth Warren also got into it with Facebook, running an intentionally false ad claiming Mark Zuckerberg endorses Trump in 2020.

Taken at face value (no pun intended), Facebook is in a tough spot. Fact-checking content can be seen as only a step away from censorship, and in that sense, you could argue it's appropriate that Facebook isn't going to stand between political campaigns and users. 

Except, Facebook does it all the time. Facebook decides every single day what content you see, and regularly removes content it deems inappropriate or false. It also decides what appears in your feed, and is now even picking what qualifies as news. 

That's why it rings a little hollow that Facebook is taking a stand on the side of free expression when it comes to fake political ads. I mean, of course Facebook is going to do this--political advertising is expected to hit $10 billion between now and the 2020 presidential election. There's no chance Facebook is going to pass up its share of that kind of cash. 

As a result, Facebook's position isn't really that "false political ads are good," but more "candidates are going to run them anyway, so lets at least make some money off it." Which really seems to be Facebook's take on just about everything it touches. In that regard, it handles political ads in a manner that is remarkably similar to the way it handles your personal information--in the exact ways that most benefit Facebook. 

That, by the way, is the entire problem. Facebook isn't an honest broker in this case because despite what it says, it has a conflict of interest in the form of massive amounts of money that come with political ads. It has no interest in policing those ads because it would directly affect its bottom line.

Which is why this particular form of protest is a point worth making.

Published on: Oct 29, 2019
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